A study out today (August 31) confirms what drug users have known for years: there is essentially no such thing as pure heroin in Vancouver.
From July 7 to August 3, staff at Insite, Vancouver’s only low-barrier supervised-injection facility, used a new form of testing for a drug’s purity.
Specifically, researchers looked for fentanyl, a synthetic opioid that has tainted Vancouver’s heroin supply and is largely to blame for a sharp increase in overdose deaths observed in recent years.
The researchers found that 90 percent of heroin tested at Insite contained fentanyl. Of all drugs tested (including cocaine, methamphetamine, and other substances as well as heroin), 86 percent tested positive for fentanyl. (The total sample size remains relatively small, at 173 checks, but will grow in the coming weeks and months as tests continue.)
“These initial results confirm our suspicion that the local drug supply is overwhelmingly contaminated with fentanyl,” Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, said quoted in a media release. “We’re hoping this information can help people who use drugs.”
Previous tests for fentanyl have been prohibitively complicated and involved lengthy waiting periods for accurate results.
The tests conducted at Insite through July occurred as a pilot project. They utilized testing strips developed for urine checks but adapted for use with raw drugs. A Vancouver Coastal Health media release states the pilot project will be evaluated in several months’ time, at which point a decision will be made on whether or not it will continue to offer the service.
According to the latest numbers from the B.C. Coroners Service, there were 371 illicit drug-overdose deaths in B.C. during the first six months of 2016. That’s a 74.2-percent increase over the same period during the previous year.
Fentanyl has been detected in approximately 60 percent of fatal overdoses in 2016. That’s up from 31 percent in 2015, 25 percent in 2014, 15 percent in 2013, and five percent in 2012.